1. National and transnational actors reshaping (in)security dynamics across MENA and the Sahara-Sahel

Chair: Ruth Hanau Santini (University of Naples “l’Orientale”)
Discussants: Jakub Grygiel (Center for European Policy Analysis - Washington DC) & Pascal Vennesson (RSIS, Nanyang Technological University - Singapore) 

Date: Friday 30th June & Saturday 1st, 2017
Room: Sala Grande


This panel offers a number of historically rich and theoretically informed reflections on how in different Arab and African countries security and insecurity dynamics have proceeded in counter-intuitive ways. From cases where, as in Mali, the role of external actors supposedly contributing to the country’s security and political stabilization has reinforced fragmentation of authority, to cases, as Hizbullah in Syria, where an external non-state actor has entered a conflict for domestic reasons ending up reinforcing both the foreign regime in power as well as its provenance state.
This panel, across several examples, re-locates agency within the army and other security forces or armed groups, providing more nuanced and critical accounts of Arab and African states beyond crystallized and structural readings.

This focus is warranted not just at an empirical level, given the pivotal role these actors have played since 2011, but on an analytical level too: state security forces are the symbolic and factual repositories of statehood as they embody the state to its population on a daily basis, and any fragmentation, successful interference in their operations or delegation of political violence to other bodies forces us to rethink the usefulness of classic weberian conceptions of authority.

Namely, the panel aims to offer new insights deriving from both Arab and African countries enabling to further problematize the literature on statehood and sovereignty, even in a key issue area as security governance. We take issue on the one hand with a idealized Westphalian state, with distinct boundaries and borders’ inviolability, something increasingly violated across the globe and in various ways in the MENA-Sahara-Sahel region, and on the other with a Weberian-induced expectation of the monopoly over the threat or use of violence by the state and its ability to autonomously carry out security-related tasks.

We will, across the different papers, in particular emphasize the insecurity dynamics from the domestic to the regional level, and viceversa, and the intermingling between state and non-state actors, be they national or transnational, within a critically revised Principal-Agent framework.

Most papers will illustrate a dynamic of insecuritisation, be it intentional or an unintentional consequence, both from the local to the regional level and from outside to inside, capitalising on the state’s far from perfectly Weberian control of the territory. 


Confirmed Papers: 

  1. Edoardo Baldaro (Scuola Normale Superiore - Pisa), A dangerous method: the failed inclusion of transnational actors in the Malian governance
    Since the mid-2000s Mali has been confronted with a multidimensional threat composed by Tuareg irredentism, the growing presence of regional jihadist groups and the increasing activities of transnational criminal organizations. This situation brought the Malian state close to the collapse in 2012, while a low-intensity conflict is still underway even after the French intervention in 2013.

    In the lack of the material and normative means to exert a full control over national territory, local political elites deployed a double strategy: 1) they presented the country as a “force for democracy and stability” to international donors; 2) they opted for the informal inclusion of different transnational actors in the local system of governance. The 2012 crisis and its consequences showed the limits of this approach. 
    Starting from these considerations, the main questions this paper aims to answer are:
    1. How did Malian elites try to associate transnational actors to local governance? 
    2. To what extent did this choice contribute to the collapse of the state?
    Avoiding the “fragile state” framework of analysis, this paper aims to explore the complex relations between state and transnational actors in low-institutionalized contexts. Moreover, international initiatives and their impact on local elites’ behaviour will be assessed.

  2. Fred Lawson (Mills College), Civil Wars and International Conflict Revisited:  Insights from the Southern Theater of the 2011-16 Syrian Uprising
    Scholars have found a strong statistical association between civil wars and international conflict, yet the process whereby domestic warfare generates inter-state military confrontations remains obscure.  Insight into the linkage can be gained from a detailed exploration of the southern theater of the Syrian civil war.  From 2011 to 2013, sporadic skirmishes took place between opposition forces and defenders of the Ba'thi regime in Syria's southern provinces, with little impact on inter-state relations.  As the fighting grew more severe and more complex during 2014-15, however, there was a sharp increase in the level and frequency of cross-border military clashes involving Israel and Jordan.  Explicating how the escalation of internal warfare generated heightened external belligerence in this particular case sheds important light on current theories of why civil wars precipitate international crises.

  3. Eugenio Cusumano (Leiden University), The Sea as Humanitarian Space. Non-Governmental Search and Rescue Dilemmas on the Central Mediterranean Migratory Route 
    In 2016 only, more than 5,000 migrants lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. To mitigate this humanitarian emergency, ten different non-governmental organisations (NGOs) started conducting Search and Rescue (SAR) operations offshore Libya. Migrant rescuing NGOs, however, have faced growing criticism. Based on the fieldwork conducted aboard an NGO vessel offshore Libya in the summer of 2016, this paper conceptualises the Mediterranean as a new humanitarian space. It argues that while operating at sea ostensibly provides humanitarian relief organisations with the possibility to work free of political interference, non-governmental SAR entails severe operational and ethical dilemmas, forcing NGOs to accept uneasy compromises on the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence that underlie humanitarian action

  4. Elena Dal Santo (University of Genoa), Escalating complexity in regional conflicts. The case study of Mali
    In 2012 Northern Mali has been the theater of a Tuareg rebellion that has rapidly transformed into a much more complex armed conflict. The current situation is affected by various factors, such as the influence of regional geo-political dynamics, the increasing presence of terrorist, pro-government or secessionist paramilitary groups, and the synergies between terrorism and organized crime.
    Through analysis of existing literature and data collected during field research missions in the framework of a UNICRI-ICCT project, the current paper will address the following research question: what factors play a role on the current conflict in Mali? 
    The first part of the paper will describe the evolution of the situation from the outbreak of the 2012 rebellion to the alliance, announced in March 2017, among terrorist groups in the country. The second part will analyze the conflict in the broader historical and geopolitical framework. The third part will scrutinize push and pulling factors that lead people to join terrorist or paramilitary groups in a continuous cycle of violence.

    : Elena Dal Santo, PhD Candidate, University of Genoa; Liesbeth Van Der Heide, PhD Candidate, Leiden University (TBC)

  5. Suhaib Ali (University of Pisa), The Conflict That Affects Everybody. A Complex Networks Analysis of the Middle East Struggle
    In a direct or indirect way, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East has proven to influence the lives of people all around the world. Considerable attention has been paid by media and politics to this conflict, but much of the coverage is simplistic and melodramatic. In particular, the single-minded focus on the Islamic State as the main source of instability is the result of inaccurate analysis, which is producing flawed policy. A closer look at the Middle East crisis suggests that the main source of instability is not much the Islamic State as the complex interaction between too many conflicting actors. We used data from the Stanford Mapping Militants Project to map the Syria-Iraq conflict. Removing the Islamic State from the Middle East conflict, our analysis shows that a complex status quo structure of the conflict persisted, indicating that the effect of ISIS on the overall conflict is overestimated.

    In the post-modern reality, geopolitical conflicts are characterized by a complex and non-deterministic behaviour, thus reducing our ability to understand them with the traditional rational approach (Hughes 2003, Gallo 2013, Dickson 2016). The Uppsala Conflict Data Program, which collects data on armed conflicts, shows that the defining characteristic of most of the post-cold war military conflicts is the growing number of internationalized armed conflicts, that is, conflicts in which one or more states contribute troops and resources to one or both warring sides (Pettersson & Wallensteen 2015). Furthermore, the term ‘proxy war’, in which governments (or sponsors) aid and abet non-state organizations involved in a conflict against a common enemy, or a target, has increasingly been a shaping aspect of the post-modern warfare (Mumford 2013). Among the most obvious examples of such multifaceted conflicts is the ongoing military war in Iraq and Syria. The Syria-Iraq military struggle is considered among the most internationalized and proxy-driven conflicts, given the unprecedented number of involved parties that mostly act mostly through proxies (Cunningham et.al 2016, Hughes 2014). Besides being an internationalized and proxy-driven conflict, the Syria-Iraq situation is a complex and dynamic one.

    To understand this conflict, traditional tools which assume linearity and simple cause-effect relations may result in inaccurate analysis which may produce flawed policy that creates the potential for unintended, and possibly quite unpleasant, consequences (Carpenter 2013, 2016). Some existing studies showed that the conflict in the Middle East is not an exception and could be explained using a general theory of civil wars (Sørli, Gleditsch,& Strand 2005). However, the civil war theory does not explain the proxy wars and global power rebalancing phenomena, which are a crucial element in the ongoing Middle East conflict. On the other hand, too many accounts of the Middle East conflict tend to conclude that the source of instability lies mainly in single groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), ignoring the fact that the complex nature of the situation, which led to the emergence of ISIS, is driven and shaped mainly by the interactions among the different parts in the conflict. There is no doubt that the Islamic State is a crucial part of the equation, however given their strategy of fighting whoever opposes them, the Islamic State has set itself as a common enemy of all the other parties to the Middle East conflict, no matter what their ideology or goals are. One possible implication of this situation is that the scenario of destroying ISIS will not put an end to the complex situation that has been evolving between the other conflicting sides in Syria and Iraq.